Through a couple conversations with colleagues and friends this week, I have been reminded that the first rule of fundraising is programming. I actually believe that the first rule of most things in an arts org is programming. Here are some questions that all lead to programming:
How do you get high dollar donors? Success is greater when you make the ask of people who are already giving, so you cultivate the big donors from your pool of average donors. The people that are most likely to give more are a) those with money and b) those that love your product.
How do you get average donors? Same philosophy, with a twist. You have an audience that is paying you money for your product. Work to develop a relationship with your repeat audience members and ask them for a little more than just the ticket price in exchange for whatever your member benefits are. The repeat audience are the ones that show an appreciation for your product, so they're more likely to want to be a part of your organizational family.
How do you get an audience? You program, and you do it really well. You can bring in celebrity artists like Joshua Bell (I can't believe I haven't mentioned JBell on this blog until today) and you'll know that people will want to come and hopefully underwrite. Or, you can program something relevant to current events to generate press buzz and curiosity - like the Smithsonian Folklife festival did after the earthquake in Haiti, or like the Process Art House is doing in Texas with their show on gun violence running this month.
Every organizational activity (fundraising, marketing, educating, advocating, ticket-selling) will rely on the strength of your organization's programming. That's not to say you have to only present sexy or celebrity-ridden work! You gotta work to develop trust from your audience so that when you present a new art form, artist or genre, it's received with an open (if not excited) mind.